Tourism Week in Canada: Preparing for Future Human Resource Challenges

Tourism Week in Canada, May 14-20, 2012, provides an opportunity to recognize the importance of the tourism sector to Canada’s economy and to acknowledge the dedicated and talented professionals who work in tourism and hospitality across the country. It is also a time to reflect on the present and future challenges facing Canada’s tourism businesses, and develop strategies to ensure that a strong, growing and sustainable tourism sector will continue to benefit all Canadians in the future.

Tourism remains one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, and contributes as much to Canada’s economy as fisheries, forestry and agriculture combined. The tourism sector in Canada is comprised of over 170,000 businesses, most of which are small and medium sized enterprises providing employment to locals. In fact, the sector accounts for 1.6 million full-year jobs, roughly 10% of all employment in Canada, making tourism our third largest job creator, exceeded only by the retail and healthcare/social assistance sectors.

With Canada facing an impending skills shortage and having an aging population, the most serious challenge facing the tourism sector will be finding enough workers to fill newly created jobs. By 2030, spending on tourism goods and services is projected to increase to $294 billion, significantly increasing the need for workers. Unless new sources of labour are found, shortages could result in over 228,000 jobs in the sector going unfilled.

These projected shortages can be reduced by developing effective strategies for the attraction and retention of tourism professionals. Showcasing the many benefits of tourism occupations, ensuring that both academic and industry training programs are responsive to the needs of the sector, adjusting to the needs and expectations of younger workers, accommodating older workers seeking part-time hours and mentoring opportunities, and accelerating the rate of tourism employment among new Canadians would all help lessen the effects of labour shortages. By increasing the rate of employment in entry level occupations just 1% per year over a decade, up to 52% of the projected shortages could be alleviated.

Compounding the labour supply issue is the traditionally high rate of turnover in tourism industries. The private sector turnover rate averages 9.1%; at an average rate of 26%, voluntary turnover in tourism industries is already costing the sector billions of dollars. Implementing formal training and employee recognition programs is proven to increase loyalty and reduce turnover, as well as improving customer experiences and increasing repeat business and positive word of mouth advertising. Promoting from within also helps to reduce turnover. In a recent study, young employees who believed they had an opportunity for advancement were 230% more likely to remain with their current employer.

Training new and existing tourism workers is identified as a key area of focus in Canada’s Federal Tourism Strategy, with a stated desire to “support an internationally competitive tourism sector” by “fostering and adequate supply of skills and labour to enhance visitor experience through quality service and hospitality.” The Strategy recognizes emerit professional certification and training products as being “synonymous with excellence, credibility, and professionalism,” identifying emerit resources as the best training tools available to the Canadian tourism sector. These nationally recognized training and certification programs from emerit are designed with industry to ensure that they reflect the current skill and knowledge requirements of Canadian tourism businesses.

Investing in the attraction, training and professional development, and retention of new and existing tourism employees now can effectively address the present and future labour needs of the sector. However, for Canada to continue to enjoy the substantive benefits that tourism contributes to its economy, action is needed now to ensure growth, sustainability and competitiveness in the sector.